Before the Water Runs Dry

May 9, 2020

First, your mouth would dry then eventually you’d lose the ability to speak. The feeling of thirst may wane after a couple of days, and in a week’s time, you’d be dead. This death may be painless, but only if you spend your dehydration in ICU, with drugs and loved ones to ease the pain. Imagine you had to die under the raging sun compounded with the added curse of having nothing to drink. Either way, going without water will kill you within about seven days.

If you’re brave as Lieke, you may choose dehydration (Her death was not a novelty choice; she decided to give up her life to overcome an illness11). But, say you had no choice, and drinking water was perpetually unavailable? As climate change presses onward, the threat of water scarcity becomes ever more a reality. Droughts already ravage the lives of people in many parts of the world. Not only, but pollution byproducts from human consumption are contaminating numerous water sources. As climate change alters our habitats for the worst, death by dehydration may soon be commonplace. Well, if you don’t die from water bourne disease first.

At this stage in the climate story, it’s no surprise that our industrialisms also lead to the desertification of swaths of land1. The agriculture and mass-production of metropolitan society are sucking up freshwater supplies. At the current rate, humans could consume almost all available freshwater on earth by the year 20501,4. Which is to say, we’re doomed, which is also to ask: what can we do?

Nothing to Deny Also, in this stage, the idea of “climate denialism” is idiotic and not up for debate. Even disregarding science, the effects of the present state of water are dismal. Over 800,000 people die from diseases contracted from polluted water each year14, people in Chad are facing water shortages1,6, and over 1,500 water sources in the United States contain high levels of toxins ⁴. Taking climate change into account, events such as these will only multiply in number.

I dare not attempt to list all climate change stressors or the fallout we see because of it; I’m merely cherrypicking points for your attention. I’m also not an optimist; call me a doomer, but I find solution-oriented thinking to be a form of optimism. Humanity faces a terrible problem, and we need to address it immediately. Fighting over whether climate change exists while millions die is piss on a mass grave.

Oh, and one more thing: we must end the privatization of water8,10. We must cease concepts of luxury or premium water commodification, and the individual packaging within plastic containers. This is a double-sided problem. First, water sold in bottles costs several times more than its tap water equivalent. Second, plastic bottles are obliterating our habitats. I would also argue that access to water is a human right.

Easy as One, Two… As for our present and increasingly horrifying water crisis, solutions do exist. I have two suggestions: short-term water purification and a long-term combination of desalination and atmospheric water generation (AWG). I believe it is that simple. I’ll briefly explain my thought process:

There are billions of people who have inadequate access to water. For those who have available but polluted water sources, their local leaders should organize to provide water filters. Yet, only certain filters are exceptionally suited to clean out bacterias and virals from even the worst of water. Michael Pritchard created the Lifesaver filter, which is, to my knowledge, the best immediate short-term option for this scenario. The Lifesaver company has already placed thousands of their large scale C2 water basins within villages across Asia.

That said, filtration only works when water is present on site. In arid regions, there may not even exist contaminated pools from which to collect water. In comes the science of Atmospheric Water Generation. After sorting out some logistic and cost questions, AWG could happen just about anywhere. For instance, villagers in Chad then save themselves a trip to the city in search of water. In another sense, excessive spending to transport plastic water bottles to disaster zones is nonsensical when we can deploy AWG machines for a fraction of the cost. AWG may be the most promising concept for the future of water security on earth2,7,15.

Lastly, we have desalination, which is a somewhat controversial subject. The processing plants are cumbersome and regretfully costly: they interfere with ocean life, use fossil fuel energy sources, and are most likely privately-owned operations — not to mention the financials. Despite all of that, we have no option but to consider desalinization. We could soon use every last ounce of fresh water on the planet. Beyond dehydration, how depressing it would be to witness earth’s landscapes barren of rivers, lakes, streams, or marshes.

In 2009, ocean water desalinization was “no solution to water shortages”6. Yet, now in 2020, this method seems to be gaining popularity within the global conversation. Again, I say that desalination is not without fault, but it may soon be one of the last remaining options. As AWG and desalination technologies continue to improve, research will address questions of efficacy.

Before The Water Runs Dry In writing this, it takes little effort to claim “the researchers and scientist will figure it out,” but I’m merely brainstorming as a solution-oriented doomer. The rest of us can be grateful that a few brilliant people exist who are confronting the end of humanity. Issues of this complexity are mentally debilitating to think over. Regardless, these solutions I’ve laid out are one pathway forward, and I believe them to be a viable one at that.

Climate Change is the metaphorical world war three we’ve all joked was inevitable (although humans remain stupid enough to start an actual third world war i.e., weapons of mass destruction along with their capricious owner’s waving fists). The caveat is that if we lose this fight, we all die; there will be no victorious country and no safety bunker in which to cower. It is doubtful that any of us will have the good fortune of painless death under the climate catastrophe’s grip. Yet, as crises escalate, humans continue to fight amongst themselves in all manner of partisan, self-proclaimed revolutions and endless wars.

Even so, we in wealthy countries — those privileged enough to ignore climate change — will soon force ourselves to confront reality sometime in the next 30 years. Internal migration in search of water, the situation many people face in the Middle East and Africa, may be necessary for most of us in the decades to come. It already happened once in the United States during the Dust Bowl or the Great Depression17, and it very well could happen again.

References

[1] Cook, B. “Climate change is already making droughts worse.”
Carbon Brief. May 14, 2018

[2] Chandler, D. L. “In field tests, device harvests water from desert air.”
MIT News. March 22, 2018

[3] Cosin, C. “The evolution of rates in desalination (Part I).”
Smart Water Magazine. January 15, 2019

[4] Evans, Sydney et. al. “PFAS Contamination of Drinking Water Far More Prevalent Than Previously Reported.” Environmental Working Group.
January 22, 2020.

[5] Flahive, P. “Texas Nonprofit Brings Water Technology To Disaster Area.”
Texas Public Radio. May 21, 2018

[6] Fried, K. “Ocean Desalination No Solution to Water Shortages.”
Food and Water Watch. February 4, 2009

[7] Halford, B. “Can stripping the air of its moisture quench the world’s thirst?” Chemical & Engineering News. October 14, 2018.

[8] Kishimoto, S., Boys, D., & Zamzami, I. Press Release: “Jakarta Court cancels World’s biggest Water Privatisation after 18 year Failure.” Transnational Institute. March 25, 2016

[9] Lifesaver. “LIFESAVER systems and the LIFESAVER M1,” Youtube.

[10] Malhotra, S. “The Real Cost of Water.”
Business Today India. May 22, 2016

[11] Malpas P. J. “Dying Is Much More Difficult Than You’d Think: A Death By Dehydration.” The Permanente Journal, 21, 16–148. 2017.

[12] O’Neill, B. K. et al. “Estimating the cost of desalination plants using a cost database.” Lenntech Water Treatment Solutions. 2018.

[13] Robbins, J. “As Water Scarcity Increases, Desalination Plants Are on the Rise.” Yale Environment 360. June 11, 2019.

[14] Shaikh, A. “The Bad News? The World Will Begin Running Out of Water By 2050. The Good News? It’s Not 2050 Yet.” UN Dispatch. June 17, 2017.

[15] Stinson, L. A Bamboo Tower That Produces Water From Air.
Wired. January 9, 2016.

[16] Usigbe, L. “Drying Lake Chad Basin gives rise to crisis.”
UN: Africa Renewal. December 2019

[17] Whitley, C. T. et al. “Climate-induced migration: using mental models to explore aggregate and individual decision-making.” Journal of Risk Research, 21(8), 1019–1035. 2018.



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